He had the time of his life
By Jim Stewart
For the past 50 years Bill Medley has had the respect and admiration of his fellow artists and fans worldwide, and, when you look at just some of his achievements, it is easy to see why.
He formed The Righteous Brothers with Bobby Hatfield in 1963, giving a whole new take on R&B that made the music acceptable to both sides of the racial divide.
He sang lead, in 1964, on the record with the most airplay in the history of American radio. The following year he produced a record for his partner that reached No.1 worldwide, and then repeated that feat 25 years later, selling millions of copies in the process.
His fan base, past and present, includes Elvis Presley, Billy Joel, Ray Charles, Andy Williams, Whoopi Goldberg and the thousands worldwide who give him a standing ovation each time he walks on-stage.
He sang a now-iconic duet, with Jennifer Warnes, in a low budget 80s movie that helped it become one of the decade’s biggest grossing movies.
Now, at the age of 73, Bill recalls those times, with the help of Mike Marino, and plenty more in his autobiography ‘The Time Of My Life: A Righteous Brothers Memoir’ (Da Capo Press ISBN: 9780306823169). He recalls the highs, working with The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Phil Spector, Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Fame, his relationship with Bobby Hatfield, his affair with Darlene Love, his new album ‘Your Heart To Mine’ and the tragedy of his wife’s brutal, unsolved murder; nothing is overlooked.
Being a huge fan since the earliest of those times, I had a huge list of questions, and we began right at the start.
I first became aware of The Righteous Brothers in 1963, when I got a sampler album featuring ‘Justine’ and a dozen black R&B artists, Ike & Tina, Bobby Parker, etc. I already knew you were white but I’d never heard a white duo who weren’t clones of The Everly Brothers.
“Looking back we were just two white guys who fell in love with the black artists of the 50s and 60s. So, when it came to recording, we sang black, which doesn’t sound such a big deal today, but back then it was really going against the grain because white stations wouldn’t play us because they thought we were black, and black stations wouldn’t play us because they knew we were white.
“It was kind of an interesting year and a half or so for us. The Everly Brothers were the best, one of the few white acts I liked, and when you sing two part harmony it’s difficult to get away from that sound, I got to sing with Phil, and Brian Wilson, on my last album and I’m so glad I got to sing with him before he passed.’
‘Shindig’ obviously gave him a lot of exposure and experience.
“We were regulars on ‘Shindig’ and we just loved it. It was really a good rock‘n’roll show. Jack Good, the producer, he just demanded it be pushy, hard rock‘n’roll and we all loved it. He wouldn’t let us do ‘Loving Feeling’ until it was No.5 across the nation, because it was a ballad.
“I just did a show the other day for Bobby Sherman, and Donna Loren was there and they both looked just phenomenal.’
He supported both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones on their first US tours.
“Yea, we did the first American Beatles tour, and it was just unbelievable to have a front row seat on what was taking place.Who knew all these great English bands were going to come over here and change the face of music?
“We did the first Rolling Stones tour, which was great because they hadn’t become big then, and when we came over to London to promote ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ they came to meet us at the airport, came to our press conference. All the press were just following them around reporting everything they did, so the next day everybody in England knew exactly who The Righteous Brothers were.’
‘Loving Feeling’ must have changed their lives completely.
“It did! We were doing ‘Shindig’ which was a big, national TV show when ‘Loving Feeling’ came out and we went from zero to 60 overnight, and that’s pretty difficult to get your brains around. It takes about two years to get used to it, and it was worldwide: everybody, everywhere wanted us to do everything, it was very difficult.”
He did TV in the UK but I can’t recall any live performances, I said.
“No, we were about to come over but we were so busy in the States we never really got to play anywhere else. Then we broke up in ’68 for six years, and I just came over to London last November and played Wembley Arena, and I think I’m coming back for three or four shows next June.”
How did you come to record for Phil Spector? I asked him.
“Phil asked us to record with him, but we were still under contract to Moonglow Records. He wanted them to release us, but they refused, and then Moonglow agreed to lease us to Phil for the remaining two years of our contract.’
What was recording with Phil Spector like?
“Everybody thinks there is a real horror story there but, in ’64 and ’65, he was just great. He worked us real hard, and we didn’t mind it. He wanted people to think he was eccentric and maybe in his later years he was, but we both loved working with him. We found him to be sane but he wanted to convince everyone he was ‘out there’ and maybe he was.”
Bill appeared to struggle to decide on a follow up to ‘Loving Feeling’. The original choice ‘Just Once In My Life’ was pulled shortly after release in the UK. “It’s good news and bad news when you’ve had a record that big. Every songwriter in the world wants you to record their songs. Nobody knows what a hit record is, so you have to make a gut choice, and go with your feelings and hope.
“Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil sent us four or five songs including ‘Soul And Inspiration’ but they kinda fell out with Phil, and he decided to go with the Carole King song ‘Just Once In My Life. “I actually think that record was the best production Phil ever did. It was a huge hit. Phil began to tire of us, – one of his artists getting so much more attention than him. It was basically a solo record for me, and when it became big, Phil suggested I record for him as a solo artist, which would have meant the end of The Righteous Brothers, and he would have been the main focus again: but I refused to leave Bobby.”
Did he ever record ‘We’ve Gotta Get Out Of This Place’? “No, but we sure wanted to. It was one of the songs Barry had sent, written for The Righteous Brothers, but we turned it down. A year later, Eric Burdon killed – I mean he really killed it.”
When I bought ‘Hung On You’, I was amazed to find a Spector record with a flip worth playing, I said.
“Phil was only interested in one side of the record; in fact, the flip of ‘Loving Feeling’ is possibly the worst record we ever made. After the second hit the label wanted an album. Phil didn’t do albums, apart from his Christmas one, so he showed me how to produce, and left me to fill out an album. ‘Unchained Melody’ was placed on the B-side as Phil hated it and felt it was no threat. The initial copies were issued stating ‘Produced by Bill Medley’ but when it started getting more airplay than ‘Hung On You’ Phil would phone the radio stations saying: ‘You’re playing the wrong goddam side’.
“After it became a big hit, I discovered Phil had changed the credits to ‘Produced by Phil Spector’, and when he recorded Bobby solo on the follow-up ‘Ebb Tide’, I’m sure he made Bobby an offer similar to the one he made me.”
Why did he leave Phil Spector?
“We wanted to continue recording for him, but the Moonglow contract ended – so that was it, and we couldn’t sign for anybody else due to the legal battles going on between Phil and Moonglow.
“Our agent arranged a deal with MGM who signed us for a million dollars cash and took care of the Moonglow problems.”’
Bill came back with an absolute monster hit that sounded more like Spector than Spector. “When we left Phil, I got in touch with Barry and I asked if ‘Soul And Inspiration’ was still available. He gave it to us. I produced it in the same way I thought Phil would have done and it turned out kinda ok.”
Next month, Bill recalls the break-ups, reunions, the solo years, the movie songs, his autobiography, and so much more, but if you can’t wait check out ‘The Time Of My Life’ – a fantastic read, and his web site
Jim Stewart 2014